Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Focus Pulling For Steadicam

Published : 17th October 2004

>Is there any special tricks for the focus-puller on steadicam jobs?

>I know my regular puller job, but am about to do my first with steadicam - still don't know if it'll be by remote or I have to hang on to an action-stick. Any wisdom to share very much appreciated.

>Ystein Mamen
Student of Cinematography,
The Norwegian National Film School
Gamlevegen 110
2615 Lillehammer

>My way of focus pulling for steadicam is that it must be remote, insist on it. The operator will need room around them so don't stand next to them unless it is a choreographed move.

>I often stand parrel ,5-6 feet, to them and become use to what 3' and 6' look like from that distance during rehearsals. Sometimes I use the artists rule of thumb for quick references. If the lens is wide open use marks for the actors and the steadicam. Very helpful for them as well.

>Be relaxed and Good luck.

Also if you have grips make sure they are there to look after the operator. The rig is very heavy.

Bob Foster
Sydney Australia

>Though I have not pulled focus on a steadicam shoot yet everything I have red indicates that a remote device (Arri calls their's Remote Control Unit) is the best option.

>Using a focus whip on the other hand will probably make the steadicam operator's job difficult if not impossible, because of the push/pull/up/down force you will inevitably apply to the camera. As far as marking your distances goes treat it like a dolly shot, get measurements during blocking, lay down tape marks for the actors and operator if possible, and mark the ring on the remote device(looks the same as the ring on a follow focus).

>If possible you probably want to walk with the operator somewhat near your normal position in relation to the camera, just so your on somewhat familiar ground if the actor or operator misses a mark(If this is bad advice AC's and Operators, please correct me). and finally test the remote during checkout.

>Aaron Rohn
Aspiring AC
Cincinnati OH


You will most probably be pulling focus with a Preston wireless follow focus unit. This is the most common/best one around. I have never seen any one have to pull focus off the camera itself, but I guess you never know. So my advice is pray just kidding.

As far as getting marks for the operator, it may be a good idea to attach a small laser pointer to the bottom of the steadicam if the operator wishes to hit very specific marks (or a piece of paper tape on the floor for simplicities sake), but then again, a lot of the time the operator must be flexible and may not need to be so exact. You’ll be able to tell when the situation presents itself, and just ask the operator how he/she likes to work. They al have different personalities.

>For the actors and for yourself, you'll probably want to over mark if possible. If the shot isn't too wide and you never see the floor, get marks for where the actor will be landing and then with a different color paper tape, put marks down a foot ahead and a foot behind the main marks (or 2 sets of marks ahead and behind if you'd like), so that if they miss their mark you'll know just where they stand.

>For the actual act of pulling focus, you will probably want to stand at a 90 degree angle from the steadicam operator. You will be able to judge distance much better as the operator or the actors make their move. Say the actor hits his or her mark but is leaning in 3 inches. You will clearly be able to see the difference in distance. If the shot is done with a wider lens, then just take your usual position, but a few feet off so that you're not in the way of the operator. If the shot takes place in a narrow hallway, well then you're screwed and I wish you the best. You will have to be behind the operator poking your eyes through the cracks just to see the scene unfold.

>The most important advice is !!! take your time to get the best marks you can!!! - If the first AD is giving you the tap at the watch don’t feel rushed. When all is said and done and the shot is soft when they are watching all of the footage that's been shot, they wont care/remember you being rushed. All they will see is a shot that is soft. So to save the shot and save the possibility of future employment, make sure you do your best to be ready for the shot.

>I hope this information helps.
Have a nice shoot,

>Joe Zovko
AC Local 600

>Aaron Rohn wrote :

class="Paragraph">>a remote device (Arri calls their's Remote Control Unit) is the best >option.

>Arri's Remote Control Unit (RCU-1) or Wireless Remote Control (WRC-1) is not for focus pulling, but for controlling the camera in terms of framerate, shutter and similar. It's a virtually a remote control for the cameras normal display, but also adds more possibilities including the big dial, which can be used to adjust framerate and shutter angle locked (compensating) to each other during filming.

>For focus-pulling you need a wireless follow-focus, which Arri also makes. Another widely used system is Preston.

>Best regards,

>Anders Thorsby
Freelance clapper/loader | video assistant
Copenhagen, Denmark

>When running backwards be sure to have someone catching you if you should be so unlucky to stumble. Rehearse the running/walk through with the steady-op as many times as you can. Be ready to catch the operator if no grip. Help each other - talk together. Remember to look at the operator while settling in, especially those who sometimes, to adjust framing , stretches the arm holding the camera just a few inches +/-.

>Check link between remote unit and lens motor often. If you have a "quick response" laser-measure it can be used in some occasions during a shot to check if you are in doubt.(the velcro on the pouch should not make to much noise

>Good luck

>Allan O
Copenhagen , 1. AC.

class="style7">>As far as getting marks for the operator, it may be a good idea to attach >a small laser pointer to the bottom of the steadicam if the operator >wishes to hit very specific marks

>If you do this, beware that, if the camera tilts up or down, your laser becomes a like pendulum and will be way off the mark even if the camera isn't.

>Martin Shepherd
London based 1st AC

class="style7">>As far as getting marks for the operator, it may be a good idea to attach >a small laser pointer to the bottom of the steadicam if the operator >wishes to hit very specific marks

>In almost 20 years of Steadicam operating I have NEVER worn a laser so I "could hit a mark", And I hit my marks Very well thank you.

>Here is my advice for any AC that is working with Steadicam.

>1) Have a know distance from the film plane on the camera. The AC that I love working with use's a small cardboard Matte Box Blast Shield extension to make the know distance (2 feet on film jobs and 3 feet on HD jobs)

>2) Learn the Focus system and if it can be trusted. Is it fast enough so that you can't beat the knob? If it's a slow system you REALLY have to anticipate and that can be nightmarish.

>3) Learn your operators quirks how much of a "kiss off" does he do after his body is stopped.

>4) It's where the rig is not his body. I can land with the rig dead nutz on the mark but my body can be up to +/- 2 feet from that mark.

>5) If your REALLY blow the focus on the take then REALLY blow it on purpose, that way that shot will never see the light of day and haunt you.

>6) Stay out of the Steadicam operators way. Yes there are times that you will not be in the optimum spot to see the distance, that's when you need to wing it based on experience.

>Good luck, it's a tough thing for any AC to deal with steadicam.

>Eric Fletcher SOC
Steadicam/"A" Camera Operator
Los Angeles, CA USA

>Steadicam operators like it when you organise for the steadicam stand to be near him/her and after shots/during breaks help them get it onto the stand to give him/her a break - they should keep their energy levels up for all the hard work they have to do - of course if there is somebody who is specifically meant to be doing that job (e.g grips) then let them do it but often I find it is forgotten and therefore good practise to make sure there is either you or somebody else on the job.

>Personally I don't think "Runners" should have to be doing jobs like this - anyway they are often sent away on other errands and I find I can never keep one within the camera department!

>Anna Carrington
Camera Assistant

>Hi, and thanks everybody for all your good advice, both you who have replied to the list, and those of you who have contacted me directly.

And the best piece of advice I guess is just being confident.

(Hey, I knew that! I am self-confident, its true!...It is!)


Ystein Mamen
Student of Cinematography,
The Norwegian National Film School